Three wins on the bounce? A clean sheet? Cedric Soares actually playing in an Arsenal shirt? The Gunners in a European qualification spot? Has the world gone mad?
Arsenal returned to home territory against Norwich for the early evening match, with pre-kick off, the sadly departed Theo Foley being remembered alongside the Arsenal fans that had lost their lives since the pandemic crisis brought a halt to football and most everything else. There were a mixture of banners (mainly commercial) in the stands as opposed to fans, and one wag said during the game that the atmosphere was better than normal.
Mikel Arteta seems keen to give the back three formation a run, and it was a surprise to see David Luiz fit for the game after his exit v Sheffield United, partnering Holding and Kolasinac. Reiss Nelson saw a rare start alongside Lacazette and Aubameyang, and what followed demonstrated why the player needs to get more game time under his belt before he can make a meaningful contribution.
Given Norwich’s position in the table, it was hardly a surprise to see the home side dominate with only a few breaks in response. Nevertheless, the Canaries could have had two goals by the time the interval came. In attack though, after three good chances went begging, a keeper howler by Tim Krul gifted Arsenal’s opener – Aubameyang’s 50th Premier League goal, achieving the feat in a club record time. The second goal was a thing of beauty, and a collector’s item with Granit Xhaka being the scorer after good work by Luiz, Tierney and Auba. It demonstrated how devastating the formation could be with the wide defenders pushing up. It has been interesting in the last two matches to see the armband given to Xhaka when the official match captain has been subbed. The players still look to Xhaka as their leader in spirit if not the man writing the captain’s column in the matchday programme.
It has to be said that Emiliano Martinez is looking better with every game in Arsenal’s goal. He pulled off a couple of fantastic saves yesterday, one just before half-time from a Norwich free-kick. Generally Arsenal looked better at set pieces, but Norwich were less inclined to pump the ball in high than we saw at Bramall Lane last weekend. The visitors certainly had a spell in the early part of the second half, but Arsenal for once, held out without allowing the opposition back into the game. Things became a lot calmer after another gift of a goal as a pass across the Norwich box was pounced upon by Aubameyang to make it 3-0. Soon after, a moment I thought I would never see – Cedric Soares in competitive action for Arsenal.
Given it was 3-0 we can’t draw too many conclusions, but he looked useful enough and scored a belter with his left foot from outside the area. It was a key win for confidence against four tougher fixtures – Wolves (which Arsenal must realistically win if there is even a glimmer of hope about making the top five), the Leicester (who seem to be sliding away a little), Spurs – the first NLD at their new stadium, even though there won’t be many there to see it and then Liverpool, who have nothing to play for now and might just be winding down. In truth, it doesn’t feel quite as intimidating as it looked after Arsenal had been beaten in their first two matches back.
Having said that, let’s put this in perspective. Norwich are likely doomed to the drop, and still created more danger than was comfortable. Arsenal were gift-wrapped two of their first three goals. So it was encouraging, and winning is a beautiful habit, and there are flickers of hope, not least in the news that Bukayo Saka has been secured for the long term. We will have a better idea after the next four fixtures of whether or not this team are genuinely improving under Mikel Arteta.
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